The Village of Nelson
Forever Tied to the Railroad


The population has remained under 1,000 inhabitants but a railroad line, complete with a switching station, has made it one of the more important villages of Lee County. The village comprising about two-thirds of a six-mile-square township, forms its northern boundary along the Rock River. The banks of the river provide an area for cabins and summer homes for many area and out-of-state people. Running through the center of the village is the Chicago-NorthWestern Railroad. The railroad has kept Nelson alive and is a source of employment for many of the villagers. The first settlers located in the town during the 1830's and 1840's when Nelson existed as an adjunct of Dixon. In 1859, two years after the opening of the Nelson station, the town became a reality.

In the early 1960's a train derailment in Nelson wiped out the depot.
A new depot was erected just north of the original location

The first settler was Luther Stone, arriving in 1836. He staked his claim along with the help of his sons, Burrill and Samuel. The next settler is believed to be Abner Coggswell, who arrived in 1843. Charles F. Hubbard in 1847 was followed by Lewis Bauer, Nathan Morehouse and Charles Noble. Stone established a tavern which he operated for many years out of his large log house. Abner Cogswell was the first township supervisor and the first justices of the peace were Daniel Uhl and George Jones. Michael Troutman was named as the first township accessor and R. Henry Heaton became the first collector. Each was elected in 1860, when the township was organized.

Early settler were not attracted to Nelson. It was sparsely settled prior to 1854. In that year, Jacob and Solomon Harding, Daniel Uhl, John and Eli Geiger settled in the area. By 1855, Frederick Haupt, and his son, Fred, and Gerhard H. Missman settled in the township. Eli Lloyd and his family settled the following year. Settling in Nelson during the 1850's were Arthur Phillips, John Mooers, Michael Trautman, Elijah Walker, Henry Heaton, Albert Hubbard and Conrad Hartman.

The Nelson Hotel burned to the ground on April 11, 1970.
It stood in the village since Thanksgiving Day in 1921, when it was opened, built by Jack F. Kennedy

The Zion Lutheran Church as organized in the township at an early date, with services held at a little schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was constructed during 1856. The school soon became too small and another was built on the same spot. This schoolhouse was also used as a church until 1880. A cemetery was started near the school. The cemetery, controlled by the Pine Grove Cemetery Assoc. was later enlarged.

The "Town of Nelson" was platted Dec. 22, 1862 on land belonging to Willard S. Pope and Samuel Nelson. In 1902-03 the Chicago and North Western RR Company built a branch line, leaving the main line at Nelson. Large coal sheds were erected at Nelson to store coal carried on the Nelson to Peoria line. The railroad sparked the town and during this time the population increased tremendously. In 1880 the population was 454 and by the early 1900's it was 586.

John McKinstry, one of the first settlers, arrived in 1857 and started the town of Nelson as a station on the Northwestern RR, 6 1/2 miles west of Dixon. The tract laid a path through the wild prairie and wild game was in abundance just a few miles away. McKinstry opened the first store and also served as a train agent for the Chicago and NW depot from 1857 to 1877. He also established the post office in 1858. McKinstry was a very active man and served in public affairs as a member of the Lee County Board of Supervisors. He held the office as a representative of Nelson Twp. for four years.

In 1874 the Nelson Cemetery Assoc. was formed with the following serving as directors: Henry C. King, Samuel Stone and Enos F. Babcock. The land for the cemetery was given by McKinstry and the large iron arch over the entrance was donated by Martin Detrick. The first town meeting was held at McKinstry's store April 3, 1860. Benj. H. Stewart served as the moderator and George Jones was selected as the clerk. William Uhl, Abner Cogswell, John Mooers, C.A. Southwell and Jacob Harden were selected to divide the village into road districts. In order that a highway overseer could be chosen, a fence law was adopted in order to confine pigs and sheep. A bounty of $1 was paid for all wolves killed. Abner Cogswell was the first supervisor; John McKinstry, first clerk; Michael Troutman, first assessor, and Henry Heaton and John Mooers the first collectors.

Nelson continued to grow in population and improvements. In 1919 a two story brick garage was erected by Paul Young. Prior to this in 1894, the present Stitzel's General Store was taken over by Miller C. Stitzel from his brother, James Stitzel. Miller C. Stitzel also served as postmaster from 1895 to 1904. For the next several years the mail was delivered by rural route service out of Dixon. In 1908, Weyert Vieth served as the Postmaster, but in 1909 Miller C. Stitzel was again appointed. In 1823 A.W. Peterson succeeded Stitzel and served until 1925. again by 1826 the mail was delivered through the Dixon post office. The following year, M.C. Stitzel was appointed postmaster and served until 1940 when he retired on pension and watched his son Earle D. Stitzel, take the post.

There were five schools in the area. (This article only lists 4) - These were: Cook School - Mrs. Catherine Siemens teacher; directors, Roy Ransom, Russell Grobe and Harold Ringler; Hill School - Mrs. Mary Jayne Mumford, teacher, directors, Roy McCleary, Louis Meppen and Sidney Buckaloo. Walker School - Mrs. Lee Ackert, teacher; directors Joe Payne, Roy Kenny and Sam Crabtree. King School - Miss Julia Brechon, teacher; directors, Glen Grimes, Arlo Conderman and Julius McKeel. The present two room brick school was erected in 1922. The school is still used today for grades one - eight. High school students of Nelson attend Rock Falls High School.

On August 23, 1923 the village of Nelson was incorporated. First members of the Village board were; Leo N. Lehman, president; Gus Bartholomew, Ben Vieth, Klaus Siebolt, Edward Ortgiesen, Paul Young, and Henry Duffy, trustees, and Clyde Funk, village clerk. May 24, 1924, an ordinance was passed to build cement walks on all streets in the village. Marcy 1925, an ordinance passed to put an electric system from Dixon to Nelson and install street lights and residence lighting.

In 1926 electricity was installed in all homes and on each street corner of the village. In 1928 the present Nelson Village Hall was erected. In 1930, Clarence Welker organized the Nelson Boy Scouts, who were active a number of years. They disbanded and, on April 31, 1950, George Cossman organized another Scout troop. The Cub Scouts were also organized in 1950 by LeRoy Genz. In 1935 an ordinance was passed for improvements of streets and paving. The Rock Island road south of Nelson, which runs east and west through the township, was first built by George Ransom.

A plaque with names of the World War II servicemen and women in the vicinity, was erected in front of the village hall in 1942. The Nelson Community Sunday School was first organized by Mrs. James (Hattie) Stitzel. Later Klaus Siebolt was in charge and in 1925 Mrs. Edward (Olive) Ortgiesen assumed charge. Mrs. Earle (Flo) Stitzel organized the Nelson Girl Scouts in April 28, 1932, and was in charge for nearly four years. In March 1950, Mrs. Ivan (Lucille) Sharp, Mrs. Stanley (Florence) Holladay, Mrs. Clarence (Josephine) McDonald and Mrs. Willard (Marguerite) Salmon, organized the Nelson Nifties 4-H Club.

The first Nelson Days was held August 22, 1948 in Genz Park. Sept. 4, 1946, the Clyde Shoemaker Coal Co. was established. Feb. 16, 1945, the Nelson PTA was organized. First officers were Mrs. Ivan Sharp, Mrs.. Edward Hendryx, Mrs. Guy Moulton and Mrs. Hazel Lawson. Nelson is a quiet little village where nothing much really happens. The railroad continues to keep the village going and tourists and out-of state residents find Nelson a nice place in which to relax.

Dixon Evening Telegraph Feb. 28, 1976

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